By Hillary Delaney
In June of 1754, a generation before the Declaration of Independence was signed, Samuel and Diana Goff, free people of African descent, welcomed newborn son, Daniel, into their growing family. Daniel Goff was born during a difficult and changing time in Colonial Virginia. Feelings of opposition to the Crown began to stir when he was just a boy, intensifying as he neared adulthood. Life for free African Americans like the Goff family was changing as well: dependence on slave labor was growing in tobacco-rich Virginia, and slave-holders were suspicious of the motives of free African Americans neighbors.
Samuel and Diana Goff were land-owners and paid taxes, but their paper trail suggests they had begun to suffer economic hardship by the 1760s. They sold 167 acres in Cumberland County in 1762, and two of their sons, Abraham and Samuel Jr., were “bound out” into indentured service by the Chesterfield County Court the same year, presumably to off-set the family’s debt. Though Daniel was not indentured at that time, he may have become so later, as he, too, ended up living in Chesterfield County, VA. He lived in the home of James Harris, a man he would later know as the captain of his regiment during the rapidly approaching war.
In September of 1777, Daniel enlisted in the Virginia Continental Line for a period of three years. He appears on the rolls of the 5th, 11th, 14th and 15th regiments. His service rolls provide evidence of how many miles he covered over the next three years. He suffered the brutal winter encampment at Valley Forge under the command of General Washington, then fought at the Battle of Monmouth before heading south to Charleston, South Carolina. He finally ended his service where it began, in Chesterfield, Virginia. Daniel recalled serving under both General Washington and Lafayette, as evidenced in his pension statement. He was one of five identified Goff brothers who served in the War for America’s Independence:
• Abraham Goff, Daniel’s eldest brother, was born ca. 1743. He appears on the rolls with Daniel at Valley Forge, in the 15th regiment; they served together for about a year before Daniel transferred to the 11th regiment. After four years’ service, Abraham settled in Bedford County, VA. • Samuel Goff, Jr., b. ca. 1745, enlisted in the Continental Army in September, 1777. At the Battle of Paulus Hook, NJ, August 1779, Samuel was killed in action. In a letter to Congress, General Washington praised the “merit of these gallant men,” who were triumphant, Samuel among them. • Zachariah Goff, born ca. 1759, enlisted in Cumberland County, VA in 1777. He later received a pension in Bedford County, VA, and a petition for bounty land was later entered in his name by his widow, Betsey. He served in Col. Richard Parker’s 1st and 2nd regiments on Continental establishment. • Moses Goff, born ca. 1760, enlisted in the Virginia Continental line in Cumberland County, and is listed, along with brothers Zachariah and Abraham, in a “settlement of accounts” statement in 1783, for payment due to soldiers of the Virginia Line. • A soldier named “John Goff” also appeared on the rolls of the 15th, along with Abraham and Daniel, though it’s unclear if he was their brother. John died on 16th May, 1778 at Valley Forge.
In the late 1780s, Daniel Goff made his way to Kentucky in the company of Campbell County pioneer, Major David Leitch, a Scottish native who served in the Revolutionary War. Leitch also had lived in Chesterfield, and Daniel’s brother, Abraham, had once served under his command. It’s probable that Daniel was hired as a laborer, to help with the clearing and construction of Leitch’s Station, an early settlement along the Licking River. When Leitch died suddenly from pneumonia in 1794, his young widow, Keturah, wed Newport, Kentucky’s founder General James Taylor. It was through this connection that Goff and Taylor became acquainted. Daniel was hired on as a gardener for the grounds of the Taylor’s home in Newport, where he remained for many years.
The records for Daniel Goff during his time in Campbell County are spotty, as free African Americans in slave-holding Kentucky were often overlooked. He does appear on the Campbell County tax list in 1805, and he may have been counted among the five people who were “free, non-whites” in Taylor’s 1810 census. In 1820 the census for the Taylor household does have free people of color, but no adult males number among them; Daniel could have been living nearby and was simply not recorded.
Sometime in the 1820s, Daniel Goff made his way to neighboring Boone County. Around the same time, Alexander Marshall purchased property on Gunpowder Creek, and may have hired Daniel Goff to help the family establish their farm and homestead. The 1830 U.S. Census for the Marshall family includes a free man of color in the 55-99 year-old range, among the residents; Daniel Goff was about 76 years old at the time. This same year, Marshall’s census record lists ten enslaved people as well: five children under ten years old, two males between ten and twenty-four, two women between twenty-four and thirty-six, and a woman in the thirty-six to fifty-five year range. In 1833, at the urging of General Taylor, Daniel Goff applied for his pension in Boone County. In his affidavit on Goff’s behalf, Taylor recounted the numerous conversations he had had with Daniel about his service, over the more than forty years they had known each other. Taylor also expressed concern for the aging man’s welfare and future. His statement that he “felt much for this poor colored man who had become old and infirm,” must have made an impact; the pension was approved.
It remains a mystery how Daniel Goff and Alexander Marshall came to know one another. There are some records indicating an Alexander Marshall had once lived in Chesterfield County, so the connection may have been earlier in Virginia. It’s also possible that Goff had a family on the Marshall farm, among the enslaved people owned by Alexander Marshall. If Goff’s family was once enslaved in Campbell County, then sold or transferred to Marshall, he may have moved to be nearer to them. Coincidentally, listed among the 16 slaves named in Alexander Marshall’s 1844 estate inventory there is an enslaved man, about 22-30 years old, named “Daniel” who could be Goff’s namesake. There are also two women of the right age to be a mother to this younger Daniel. Daniel Goff received his last pension payment in 1843, indicating his demise at the age of 89. In all probability, he was buried in the Marshall family cemetery, on the outer edge, among the enslaved people who also found their final resting place there.
On September 29, 2018, Daniel Goff’s life and service was memorialized in a ceremony and reception hosted by the Boone County Public Library. A marker provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution was dedicated on the property that was once part of the Marshall homestead, where Goff lived out his final years. The marker is can be viewed at 10416 Gunpowder Road in Florence.